VB School Board appoints Jessica Owens; Members apologize for closed door process

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Jessica Owens has been appointed to the Virginia Beach School Board’s vacant seat, a week after the initial appointment became enthralled in controversy. 

Owens, 39, was surrounded by squealing family and friends when the board voted 6-3 to appoint her to the Rose Hall district seat Tuesday night. Victoria Manning, Carolyn Weems and Laura Hughes voted for the other candidate, Seko Varner. 

The appointment is the school board’s second in a week. Last Tuesday, they voted 9-0 to have former city firefighter Mike Mullins fill the seat. Mullins declined a day later following the publication of past Facebook posts on his profile that some describe as racist and sexist.

The seat needed to be filled before June 4, per a court order. In April, a judge ruled former board member Joel McDonald vacated his seat when he moved out of the district. 

Owens, who graduated from Ocean Lakes High School, is currently employed by the Virginia Department of Social Services as a curriculum writer. 

Before the vote, Owens explained how her journey would bring a different kind of representation to the board. She told members how she is a single mother who gave birth as a teen.

“I’m not currently represented in the school board in the way I should be, and the way that the rest of the citizens who fall into other categories other than a two-parent traditional household,” Owens said. “They live in our city and deserve representation too.”

Owens was not sworn in Tuesday, but when she is, she will only be sworn to serve until the results of a special election in November are finalized.

“I must see if this is the right fit before deciding to run,” Owens said. “But I am open to it.”  

While Varner congradulated Owens on her selection, he admitted he was disappointed in being passed over because “the school board is a bit “cliquish.” 

“I’ll see what the weekend brings.” Varner said in response to the question of his running in November.

Prior to the appointment, several parents and students spoke about their disappointment in the way the process was handled. 

“I’m disappointed in the vetting process for sure to allow Mr. Mullins to be appointed, but I’m even more frustrated he was ever chosen in the first place,” one parent said. “The board had an opportunity to appoint a person of color to represent our students … you chose not to. I feel you failed students of color in this regard.” 

Many in attendence also took issue with the closed door process the appointment process was done under.

“At the beginning of this process, I initially voted for closed door meetings, that was a mistake and I am sorry,” Victoria Manning said. 

School Board Chairwoman Beverly Anderson said she is directing school district administration to look for ways to improve the appointment processes transparency in the future.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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